What do Meryl Streep, Albert Einstein and Maya Angelou have in common? Besides permanently impacting our cultural landscape, they also suffered from the imposter syndrome. Defined by TIME as the idea that your success is “due to luck, and not because of your talent or qualifications”1, symptoms of the imposter syndrome include feeling like you don’t belong, feeling like a fraud, and feeling like you don’t deserve what you have. If you’ve felt this way, or actively struggle feeling this way – you’re far from alone. It is estimated that the imposter syndrome affects 70% of people at some point in their lives.2
So, how can someone as smart and successful as Einstein feel like a fraud? The man who is credited with saying, “few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts”3, actually had a hard time feeling that he deserved the recognition he received. That’s just the thing: imposter syndrome has nothing to do with your capability as an individual – it has everything to do with a lack of positive social engagement and distorted inner dialogue.
Improv away the Imposter with Applied Improvisation
What does applied improvisation have to do with the imposter syndrome? Firstly, applied improvisation is all about promoting psychological safety. Defined by Amy Edmondson of Harvard University, psychological safety is “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.”4 An atmosphere of safety is reassuring, and by nature provides positive reinforcement to participants. Affirmation in the form of positive reinforcement is magic for unwinding the imposter syndrome. The unconditional acceptance from the group during an improv exercise dispels inconfidence and promotes self-acceptance.
Applied Improvisation Tools Targeting Imposter Syndrome
Psychologist Audrey Ervin identifies the importance of seeking social support when dealing with imposter syndrome. Recognizing your feelings and letting others know what you are feeling is key to stepping out from under the shadow of the syndrome. Seeking group support in the context of applied improvisation is a great way to actively rewrite the story you tell yourself about what you are worth and what you deserve. By taking healthy risks in an environment that promotes psychological safety, you can practice positive self talk and learn to disengage from the negative thought patterns you have built. After all, the imposter syndrome is a consequence of negative self talk, not the cause of it. A great way to free yourself from negative thinking is to put yourself in situations that invalidate that negative inner voice
Familiarize Yourself With Failure
An expert on the imposter syndrome, Valerie Young has identified that it is oftentimes perfectionists, experts, and self-motivated people that suffer from feelings of insufficiency and lack of worth. It may seem counterintuitive, but the reason that highly gifted and driven individuals suffer from the syndrome is that they aren’t as used to failure in the face of a challenge. They take failure too hard.
One of the many benefits of practicing applied improv is that it helps take the teeth out of failure. Many games are targeted at purposely failing, and teach participants the powerful tool of “failing forward” – that is, celebrating failure as an important and inevitable step in growth. Individuals that have a fear-based relationship with failure can shift their mindset by familiarizing themselves with failure in the low stakes environment of an Applied improv class.
A Community that will Empower You
Whether you suffer from acute insecurity in the form of the imposter syndrome or experience mild, nagging self-doubt, a small amount of intentional practice can drastically improve both your outward and your inner confidence and security. In an age of technologically fueled isolation, connecting with others and building a trusted network of support is massively empowering and important for growth and security. I warmly invite you to connect with me and my community at christianafrank.com.